Long Beach Unified School District’s (LBUSD) 84 schools opened Tuesday, Sept. 1, offering mostly virtual instruction with some success but also complaints.
During its Sept. 2 regular meeting, the LBUSD Board of Education learned that 90% of its enrolled elementary students and 81% of its 6th through 12th grade students had successfully logged into their online classes on Sept. 1.
However, dozens of parents, teachers and other community members complained to the board about some students’ lack of digital access for learning at home and their parents’ need for support.
The board also heard from preschool and special-education teachers and aides about having to teach students in person rather than virtually, risking their personal safety without hazard pay.
One speaker reported that the honking audible in the meeting room was from 150 cars parading outside in support of those teachers.
Due to coronavirus concerns, most LBUSD classes are being conducted exclusively online until Monday, Oct. 5, with plans in place to move to in-person, hybrid or continued online-only instruction thereafter.
Kristi Kahl, assistant superintendent of LBUSD’s curriculum, instruction and professional development, said that Canvas, the district’s new learning-management system, is now up and running following its Aug. 5 implementation.
LBUSD trained its teachers in the new system during the two weeks prior to school opening. Teachers also learned other curricular updates and chose learning electives– such as equity and social-emotional learning– during their 40 hours of paid training, Kahl said.
She noted that as of Sept. 1, 61,000 of the district’s 70,000 students had logged into Canvas and Zoom video-conferencing. Students and parents got technical support through LBUSD’s website and also live help outside their schools.
Kahl also said that as of Sept. 2, parents can now pair with their students’ Canvas accounts to access school and curricular information.
While student attendance is based on logging into their classes, those who can’t access virtual sessions can still get credit for “asynchronous” learning such as by submitting work, Kahl said, noting that LBUSD is still working on a separate asynchronous attendance-tracking system.
The district is also working on connecting with families through outreach, such as autodialing students’ homes to ask about technology and other needs, and arranging home visits, she said.
However, the board also heard public complaints during the meeting that LBUSD is failing to assist frustrated students and parents with technical issues and other needs.
Former Long Beach Councilmember Tonya Reyes Uranga– who is running for a school-board seat in the November election– said that many Spanish-speaking parents she talked to have questions about accessing and using Zoom for their children’s classes.
“I see no strategy to engage parents who do not speak English,” she told the board.
“Many families will need one-on-one assistance with aiding their children.”
She and other commenters also urged the board to provide each child not only with a laptop but a wireless hotspot device so they can access the internet without problems like being dropped.
LBUSD staff read aloud several emails– some in Spanish– also asking for hotspots or other internet connectivity and also individual technology assistance.
Parent Jerlene Tatum said her own child experienced tears of frustration in accessing school virtually on the first day.
“As you make your decisions,” Tatum urged the board, “please be mindful that there are real people on the other side of those screens.”
Free children’s meals
Mark Chavez, LBUSD’s director of nutrition services, told the board that parents can now apply through LBUSD’s website to get free meals for all their children aged 1 to 18 years, not just those that are LBUSD students.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced this week it is continuing to fund the free-meal program for children it had begun in the spring, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and continued through the summer, Chavez said.
“Meals will be provided to both enrolled students and non-enrolled children in the Long Beach community,” LBUSD announced Tuesday. “This program will be available as long
as USDA funding remains available, possibly through Dec. 31.”
Chavez said that parents can pick up meals for their children but need to show proof that the meal is for a child, such as a birth certificate or student ID or the application confirmation letter.
Students and parents can pick up breakfast and lunch concurrently at all but five of the district’s 84 schools, not just the student’s enrolled school, Chavez said, adding that supper will be available at 48 sites.
Since spring, LBUSD has served over 1 million meals, not just to students but to first-responders and adults in homeless shelters, Chavez said. His department has more than 450 employees and an annual budget of $36 million.
In response to a question by Board Member Megan Kerr, Chavez said providing vegetarian, vegan and allergy-sensitive meals are not logistically feasible at this time– and the USDA doesn’t require it– since students and parents can pick up meals at any location.
As with the tech issues, parents also complained about LBUSD’s free children’s meals this week.
Marie Elias of Long Beach posted a picture and message on social media about what appears to be gray mold on an egg-and-biscuit breakfast she said she picked up from Addams Elementary School for her 13-year-old son on Sept. 2.
She noted that she had also done so on Sept. 1 and her children had stomachaches.
“They are supposed to be our kids’ meals?” she asked about the food.
A member of the Facebook group ‘I’m So Long Beach’ identified as D. Latrice King, posted a letter she received from Cindy Young, LBUSD’s director of Child Development Centers, dated Sept. 3 saying that any discolored biscuits were safe to eat.
“Yesterday during breakfast service, your child might have received an egg patty on a biscuit that had some harmless discoloration caused by whole grain oxidation,” Young
said, adding that LBUSD staff replaced those sandwiches with another item once they realized the problem.
Another user on the same site identified as Mary at Peace posted an email LBUSD sent parents on Sept. 3 with a similar message.
“These biscuits are safe if consumed,” LBUSD stated. “But they do look less appealing, and you may wish to simply discard the meal if you have any concern.”
Chavez’s office would not comment on the matter, instead referring the Signal Tribune to Chris Eftychiou, LBUSD’s director of public information, who did not return a Sept. 4 call by the time of this posting.
The next regular LBUSD Board of Education meeting will take place Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 1515 Hughes Way.